Back in March of this year Bleacher Report posted an article which described fears among National Football League (NFL) players that the Trump administration would crackdown on players that consume cannabis. The fears arose due to anti-cannabis comments made by United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and then White House press secretary Sean Spicer. Mr. Spicer hinted at ‘greater enforcement’ of federal cannabis laws, and Jeff Sessions stated the following at the time, per Politico:
“Most of you probably know I don’t think America is going to be a better place when more people of all ages and particularly young people start smoking pot,” Sessions said during an exchange with reporters at the Justice Department. “I believe it’s an unhealthy practice and current levels of THC in marijuana are very high compared to what they were a few years ago.”
“We’re seeing real violence around that,” Sessions said. “Experts are telling me there’s more violence around marijuana than one would think and there’s big money involved.”
“I’m definitely not a fan of expanded use of marijuana,” he said. “States they can pass the laws they choose. I would just say it does remain a violation of federal law to distribute marijuana throughout any place in the United States, whether a state legalizes it or not.”
The Uncle Cliffy team pointed out at the time that while it’s possible that the federal government could target a pro athlete for personal cannabis use, such a move would be unprecedented, and was highly unlikely. We felt that it was much more likely that the cannabis comments and news coming out of the White House earlier this year were more rhetoric than anything. By making such comments the Trump administration, and likely sports league officials, knew that it will create a chilling effect that would possibly slow down reform efforts, or convince advocates to abandon their efforts altogether.
Jeff Sessions’ staunch opposition to cannabis reform was also cited by the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) in its response to the newly found support for cannabis reform by former head of the NBA David Stern last month. Per NBA.com:
“I think its fair to say we have to be mindful that given the current administration and Sessions’ comments on his view, that it’s a gateway drug, it wouldn’t be prudent for any changes to be made until we know what the current DOJ has to say about this.” – Michele Roberts, Executive Director of the NBPA
NBA and NFL players have every right to feel however they want about cannabis reform in pro sports, but they should not let the scare tactics of cannabis opponents like Jeff Sessions be the sole reason to oppose meaningful reform. The Trump administration has yet to go after a professional athlete for cannabis consumption, and the Uncle Cliffy team feels that such a move is very unlikely. Sessions’ previous comments were just empty political rhetoric, proven by his flip flop yesterday when testifying before a Congressional committee, as covered by Forbes:
Obama-era guidance that allows states to legalize marijuana without federal interference remains in effect, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said on Tuesday during a congressional hearing. He also conceded that cannabis is not as dangerous as heroin and that a current budget rider prevents the Department of Justice from prosecuting people who are in compliance with state medical marijuana laws.
“Our policy is the same, really, fundamentally as the Holder-Lynch policy, which is that the federal law remains in effect and a state can legalize marijuana for its law enforcement purposes but it still remains illegal with regard to federal purposes,” Sessions said, referring to his predecessors as attorney general during the Obama administration.
Professional athletes need to focus on what is right, just, and compassionate, and not be distracted by the words of politicians. League officials can no longer hide behind the ‘cannabis consumption may result in federal prosecution’ scare tactic to keep players from standing up for what’s right. Cannabis prohibition has failed. That is true in professional sports just as it is true in society.
Cannabis prohibition has a disproportionate impact on racial minority communities, and league cannabis prohibitions perpetuate institutional racism. Every professional athlete should oppose such a policy. Suffering players should be allowed to use a safer, effective medicine like cannabis, no matter where they live. Only time will tell if the recent comments by Jeff Sessions will sway players and league officials, but it is the sincere hope of the Uncle Cliffy team that it proves to be the case sooner rather than later. Free the plant!
The Uncle Cliffy team recently posted an article which discussed anti-cannabis comments made by members of the federal government. Specifically, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer and Attorney General Jeff Sessions made comments suggesting that ‘greater enforcement’ of federal cannabis prohibition could be on the way. The statements sent shock waves throughout the cannabis community, and rightfully so. The Trump administration is comprised of many long time cannabis opponents, including Jeff Sessions himself, so hints of policy changes should be taken very seriously.
An article by Bleacher Report indicated that the anti-cannabis comments also caused a stir in professional sports league circles. The article did not provide specific names, but referenced ‘several veteran players, agents and team officials’ from the NFL that expressed strong fears about an NFL player being targeted by the federal government for cannabis use. The article also suggested that NBA players could become high profile targets too.
“Stay away from marijuana at all costs. This isn’t about the NFL any longer. This is about the government coming after you.” stated an unnamed ‘higher-profile NFL agent’ according to the article. It is understandable why players and/or their agents would be concerned about federal prohibition. Federal prohibition is no joking matter. People have been arrested on numerous occasions for possessing cannabis on federal property, and it is estimated that as many as 20,000 people are sitting in prisons right now across America for non-violent, cannabis-only offenses.
But what are the odds of a player who is consuming cannabis in a private setting becoming the target of a federal investigation, especially in a state that has voted to legalize cannabis? Cannabis is no more or less illegal at the federal level now than it was before Trump took office. The federal government going after a player for consuming cannabis is technically possible, but far from likely as history has shown. Such a move would be unprecedented.
A professional athlete being penalized by their respective league for failing a drug test is exponentially more likely to occur. Athletes and their agents should certainly be concerned with federal prohibition, and should monitor for any changes in federal policy or enforcement (as every informed citizen should). They should also fight for reform in society in order to help end cannabis prohibition against responsible adults where it exists.
Federal prohibition as it relates specifically to professional athletes needs to be put into perspective. Cannabis consumption is legal in certain jurisdictions in America, and while it’s still illegal at the federal level, there is currently federal legislation (Farr-Rohrabacher amendment) and case law in place that prevents the federal government from using funds to enforce federal prohibition in states where medical cannabis is legal and the person is in compliance with state law. The measure expires at the end of next month, but is currently in effect and will hopefully be extended. 71% of Americans do not want federal laws enforced in states where voters have legalized cannabis for medical and/or adult use.
Cannabis is of course legal to possess and consume in 8 states, and D.C.. Numerous members of Congress from legal states have made it clear they will not cooperate with a crackdown on personal consumers, similar to the scenario being discussed in the Bleacher Report article. All of this will never 100% guarantee that a professional athlete will not become the target of a federal investigation and prosecution, but athletes and their agents need to put the threat of that happening into perspective. Under no circumstances should league officials be fanning the flames of fear that are popping up among athletes and their agents. To do so is harmful to the greater conversation that is going on regarding cannabis reform in professional sports, which is a conversation that MUST keep moving forward.
Athletes are adults and it is up to each individual to decide their actions, and from a purely compassionate, social justice, and wellness standpoint, the Uncle Cliffy team supports athletes making the safer choice and consuming cannabis in a responsible fashion. In addition to fighting prohibition in society, Uncle Cliffy encourages professional athletes to fight hard to end prohibition in professional sports. Whereas case law, federal legislation, and state legalization laws provide some protections for athletes outside of competition, there are zero protections for athletes in leagues that prohibition cannabis. Professional athletes need to recognize that fact, and do everything they can to fix it.
If a player like Seantrel Henderson from the Buffalo Bills consumes medical cannabis in a legal state, they are allowed to do so without fear of prosecution, at least until the Farr-Rohrabacher amendment expires. But that same consumption will later get that athlete suspended by the NFL. In Seantrel’s case, suspended for approximately 10 games.
Even after Seantrel Henderson serves his suspension, cannabis will still likely be prohibited in the NFL. Seantrel uses medical cannabis to treat a condition (Crohn’s disease) that he will have to live with the rest of his life Multiple surgeries make other pain management treatments not an option for Mr. Henderson. As such current NFL policy is essentially forcing Seantrel to either continue to play and suffer needlessly, or be forced into retirement. Athletes’ attention should definitely be focused on federal cannabis policy, but not at the expense of also keeping focus on the harms of cannabis prohibition in professional sports, and keeping pressure on the leagues to get on the right side of history. The Trump administration’s approach to cannabis policy warrants a lot of criticism, but it has yet to truly change anything that wasn’t already in place prior to the last election.
Athletes should be judged by their athletic abilities, how they perform in competition, and by their moral character. Athletes should not be judged based off of how much THC they have in their system. League policies need to be based on science, and not the personal political views of league officials. The National Hockey League (NHL) has proven that cannabis can be removed from a professional sports league’s banned substance list without issues. Instead of athletes ‘avoiding cannabis at all costs’ Uncle Cliffy encourages athletes to stand up and be heard, and to fight cannabis prohibition head-on. The Uncle Cliffy team will continue to fight to free the plant and fight for the rights of those that consume cannabis, and urges athletes and people that live an active lifestyle to do the same!
image via ACLU